Synopsis : A hive stand provides a strong and stable support for hives, a space to work and protection for your back. A well designed hive stand should be easy to assemble, rot proof and able to cope with uneven ground. Here’s one I made earlier.
Beekeepers can be passionate advocates of their particular choice of hive type, the material it’s made from, or even the orientation of the brood frames. Equally fervently they may criticise the choices others make. They’ll argue about the best way to clear supers, the fastest way to build frames, or the need for landing boards at the hive entrance.
But they rarely, if ever, say very much about what the hive is sitting on.
The hive stand … possibly the most passive and overlooked item in the apiary 1.
At its most simple, the hive stand is not so much ignored as omitted altogether. The hive is just placed on the ground.
You can easily identify beekeepers who don’t use hive stands; they either have bad backs or dirty knees.
Which neatly makes the point that the hive stand does more than just function as something to stand the hive on.
The purpose of a hive stand
I can think of several functions that a good hive stand provides, or any hive stand should provide. These include:
- keeping the hive off the damp ground
- preventing vegetation from blocking the entrance
- providing a stable, level or adjustable platform for the hive and – in a good season – its teetering tower of heavy supers
- space to place frames removed from the hive during inspections
- additional working space for boxes (supers, second brood boxes etc.) when inspecting colonies
- positioning hives at a better height to prevent, or delay, beekeepers back.
Not every hive stand provides all these, and some offer little more than one item from the list above.
Not even every hive stand I’m currently using provides more than one thing from this list 🙁
Perhaps that’s why they’re largely overlooked? Even poor hive stands work. Up to a point.
Which is not the same as saying that we shouldn’t aspire to something better.
I’ve been giving this some thought as my beekeeping activities expand on the west coast. The hive stands I’ve just completed are a significant improvement on anything I’ve used before.
I live on the side of a hill. There’s almost no level ground. Even the sitting room slopes a bit, and it’s a lot worse in what I laughably call the ‘garden’ 2.
It’s also a damp hill.
I wanted a hive stand that wouldn’t dissolve into mush over a couple of seasons.
But before discussing what I currently think will solve the majority of my problems here’s a quick overview of several DIY and commercial hive stands … the good, the bad and the ugly.
A pictorial overview of hive stands
I’ll whizz through these and make a comment or two on each.
The ‘no hive stand’ hive stand
All well and good until the grass grows and obscures the entrance.
In my defence, these were research colonies and we’d completely run out of anything suitable in this particular apiary. Not at all good for your posture … which is why we have PhD students to do most of the bending, lifting and carrying 3.
On a positive note, hive stands like these won’t cost you much 😉
These provide a convenient flat surface. However, it’s only a horizontal flat surface if the ground underneath is. Or if you spend time wedging stones or bits of wood in the right places to make the top of the pallet level.
Even two stacked pallets leaves the hive at an uncomfortable working height for anyone taller than four foot one (125 cm). Since I’m six foot one the setup above was decidedly temporary. In addition, although the snow isn’t deep, it’s already covering the hive entrance.
Pallets are soon overgrown by the surrounding herbage in summer. The photo above was taken in January. That apiary was mown once a year but the hives were almost invisible by June.
Nicot sell a plastic pallet designed for two (European, not National?) hives that can be stacked, is rot proof and can be moved with a fork lift truck 4 … not unlike a wooden pallet you’ll get free with your next large order of jars from C Wynne Jones 😉
I’m not a fan of pallets though I regularly use them.
Tyres and milk crates
I’ve used both. Old tyres actually make quite good hive stands and it’s relatively easy to wedge things underneath them to make them level. Two is a reasonable working height, but three might suffer stability issues. Bigger tyres with flat sidewalls stack better.
There’s no issue with them rotting and you can ‘work’ the hive from any angle if the ground surrounding is suitable. However, this also means that there’s nowhere convenient to balance a frame or two while you complete your inspections.
Arguably they’re also not really aesthetically pleasing … a sentiment I agree with. I wouldn’t have used these for the bait hive (above) had I not found them discarded underneath the rhododendron I cleared from the site.
I’ve only used milk crates for temporary bait hives. The footprint of a National hive is larger than a standard milk crate and a full hive, with stores, would be unstable. For bait hives they’re great … and commendably light.
DIY and commercial ‘proper’ hive stands – with ‘legs’ and horizontal bars
I’ve grouped this lot together as it covers a very wide range of broadly similar designs. Two horizontal wooden or metal rails 5 supported at or near each end with wooden or metal legs, or by a stack of breeze blocks.
Almost all of the hive stands I’ve used have been of this sort of design. They suit my beekeeping. One or more hives sit on the stand, with space between them to place frames or dummy boards. Sometimes there’s additional space to stack supers as well.
Several manufacturers produce hive stands that are similar in design. Thorne’s sell one for two hives for £92.50 that looks as though it really needs flat ground due to the design of the legs. Abelo have what looks like a nicely designed set of adjustable metal legs (you need to provide your own wooden rails) for £125.
I’ve not tried either of these hive stands 6. Both appear reasonably well designed though I think there are improvements that could be made that I’d want to see for the sort of money they’re asking. I note that both are currently out of stock suggesting that many (previously wealthy) beekeepers buy them.
If you only use foundation-filled frames then it doesn’t really matter if the hive stand slopes a bit – left to right or front to back. Or both.
Some beekeepers who use solid floors tilt the hive so any moisture can drain out of the entrance, rather than pooling at the back of the hive. This is clearly irrelevant for those of us who use open mesh floors.
However, if you use foundationless frames it really helps to have the hive horizontal, at least in the orientation perpendicular to the frames. Bees draw comb vertically in relation to gravity. A hive tilted forwards, with frames the warm way (i.e. parallel to the entrance) would end up with comb at an angle to the side bars. This means you could never reverse a frame, or use it in another hive that wasn’t similarly angled.
And when I say ‘could’ I (of course) mean ‘can’.
I’ve done this and it’s infuriating 🙁
So, although a perfectly horizontal hive stand is not a necessity, the option of being able to easily make the stand horizontal is useful. The Abelo stand described above appears to be adjustable in 1.5 cm increments … so horizontalish, but possibly not truly horizontal unless you dig a hole for one foot, or place a shim under another.
I think we can do better than that 😉
Clickbait and originality
Let’s get a couple of important points cleared away before I get to the big reveal.
- the title of this post is rhetorical and/or simply designed to drive up page views 8 so I can rake in yet more money from this site’s highly intrusive advertising and sponsorship 9. I’m more than happy to accept that there are better/cheaper/more adjustable/taller/lighter hive stands out there … but I’m not aware of them and this is the best design I’ve made.
- the most important feature – the legs – aren’t my idea. Regular reader Calum Grigor sent me a photo of a very similar design almost six years ago 10. I liked it then, I liked it when I first mentioned it in passing in a 2018 post, and I like it even more now I’ve finally got round to making a couple. It’s not the first time Calum has passed on a good idea to me, and I hope it won’t be the last 11. Thanks Calum!
I think the two most important features of a hive stand are its stability and strength.
At the height of the season a full hive could weigh 100+ kg (double brood box plus four full supers). A stand that will safely support that sort of weight needs to be strong and securely assembled.
If you intend to have multiple hives on the same stand 12 then the weight increases accordingly. Remember, they’re all likely to be at full strength/maximum weight at about the same time.
In addition, the majority of the weight is in the supers, meaning hives can be very ‘top heavy’.
A hive stand with the feet placed close together will probably be unstable. In this regard, the Abelo stand pictured earlier is very good (and the one in the photograph above is – obviously – rather poor).
The rails need to be spaced appropriately for the hive floor. However, it also helps if they are sufficiently far apart to accommodate removed frames during inspections 13.
This is a convenient way to keep a frame safe and out of the way as you go through the remainder of the box. However, placing the frame like this really requires two hands.
I therefore usually balance the frame at an angle – on one lug and the bottom bars (see above) – something I can easily achieve one handed.
If there’s any risk of the hive being exposed to strong winds it needs to be strapped down. I regularly strap hives front-to-back i..e. with the strap across the hive entrance.
However, it’s more convenient to have a bracing bar underneath the hive so it can be strapped side-to-side. This also makes it easier to strap down poly nucs which are usually longer (front to back) than a National hive.
The ultimate hive stand?
The original photo Calum sent me is reproduced below.
Four ‘legs’ and just four bits of wood. I like the hive roofs.
The legs are termed scaffold jacks, scaffold levelling jacks or sometimes screw jacks.
These are typically 600 mm in total height, rated to 4 tonnes 14 and made of galvanised steel. The outer thread diameter is 38 mm and there is an infinitely adjustable nut that runs on the thread, and is retained by a defect in the thread about 100 mm from the top i.e. providing 500 mm of adjustable height (~16 cm more than the Abelo stand pictured earlier).
To support the longitudinal hive rails I built lateral supports from 4 x 2 offcuts. I drilled a 40 mm hole through them to take the scaffold jack screw thread. I used a centre distance of 50 cm, leaving exactly 46 cm to accommodate a National hive. In retrospect, making these rail supports a bit longer would have provided a wider, and therefore more stable, base 16.
It would also allow my favoured poly nuc (Thorne’s Everynuc which has a long dimension of 58 cm) to be placed anywhere on the stand. Maisemore’s poly nucs are also 50 cm long so cannot be placed directly in line with the scaffold jacks (though also see below).
The intention is that I’ll eventually use pressure treated 4 x 2 (or even 6 x 2) timber as the longitudinal rails on most of these hive stands. I’m waiting for some building work to be completed so I can use the larger offcuts.
In the meantime I’ve repurposed a set of steel gateposts. These are 2.4 m in length and incredibly strong. They have 8 mm threaded captive nuts built into them for the hinges. Conveniently this means I can bolt through from the underside of the rail support into the captive nut, recessing the bolt head so that it doesn’t foul the scaffold jack height adjustment nut.
The position of the captive nuts in the gatepost dictates a distinct overhang at one end. I’ll use this to hang frames and/or place the supers aside.
The metal posts are strong enough to carry 4 full hives, 18 cm apart. Or three hives plus ample space to stack supers or brood boxes.
However, I can see some advantages in using 6 x 2’s as rails. They will raise the hive floor above the tops of the scaffold jacks (at least if these are adjusted appropriately) and so will accommodate the poly nucs easily. In addition, they will provide a deep ‘skirt’ under the open mesh floor – a bit like standing the hive on an empty super – and so reduce draughts 17. These wooden rails will either be bolted through or held in place with galvanised L brackets.
I added a diagonal cross brace to keep the stand square. In due course (i.e. when I can find some suitable wood) I’ll add another. These make strapping hives to the stand very easy.
The top of the scaffold jack screw thread is designed to fit within a scaffold pipe. It is therefore unfinished and mine had very rough edges. Without modification this would result in lacerations to my bee suit and permanent scarring to my hands.
While making coffee prior to putting the angle grinder to work I noticed that a green plastic milk bottle top looked about the same size as the scaffold jack screw thread.
And it is.
Ninety seven cappuccinos later I had the four milk bottle tops necessary for the legs on one stand. Not only do these prevent shredding your bee suit, gloves and flesh, but they also stop water running down inside the leg 18.
But, I bet they’re not UV stable and will degrade in a year or two 🙁
So … more coffee 🙂
Portable? … yes, just about.
Scaffold jacks are quite heavy. However, if you’re strong enough, the component parts can be disassembled and easily transported by car. The one I’ve built with metal rails will fit inside my little car and can be put together in about 5 minutes with a single spanner.
Or it can be taken to a sheltered and remote part of the garden to accommodate mating nucs.
Once the legs are placed on solid ground, the rail supports and rails are added and – using a spirit level – each leg in turn is adjusted until the rails are horizontal and level. There’s no need to dig holes, or wedge stuff under the jacks. This takes another 5 minutes.
Should the ground subside a bit, or get compacted with the weight of the hives, you can easily raise or lower the appropriate part of the stand to get things level again.
Job’s a good ‘un 🙂
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